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The Theologia Indorum: A Critical Translation of Friar Domingo de Vico’s Theology for and of the Maya

The National Endowment for the Humanities (USA) is funding an international research project to translate de first volume of the Theologia Indorum from the Mayan language K'iche' into English and Spanish.

Theologia Indorum

Written between 1552-1554 by the Dominican friar Domingo de Vico, the Theologia Indorum (“Theology for the Indians” or “Theology of the Indians”) is the first original Christian theology that was composed in the Americas and remains to this day the longest colonial text in an Amerindian language. The Theologia Indorum is preserved in several partial copies that are distributed over various libraries, including the Bibliothèque Nationale France, the Princeton University Library, and the American Philosophical Society. The text originally comprised two volumes of more than a thousand pages organized into 215 lengthy chapters, with the first volume summarizing contents from the Old Testament and the second volume covering the topics of the New Testament.

Despite its thematic scope the Theologia Indorum is not a bible translation or collection of sermons (as it is often labeled in the library catalogs), but an original theological text that was composed by Vico for the evangelization of the Highland Maya. It was written in K'iche' for a K'iche'-speaking audience, or readership, and is among the earliest Christian writings from Guatemala. It had a substantial impact on the conversion of the Highland Maya and is referenced by a number of indigenous authors in the colonial period as a relevant and important text. Still in the 16th century, the text was translated into other Highland Mayan languages, including Kaqchikel, Tz'utujil, and Q'eqchi'.

The Theologia Indorum is a central source for the creation of Christian discourse in the indigenous languages and provides extensive data for the analysis of Dominican missionary strategies in Mesoamerica. Vico explains the Christian doctrine by means of comparing it with existing religious beliefs and practices, which makes the text a valuable source for the reconstruction of Precolumbian religion. Despite its relevance for linguistic, theological, and anthropological research, the Theologia Indorum – with the exception of a few selected sections and chapters – has never been edited, published, nor translated into any non-Mayan language.

Research Objective

The international research project that is led by Dr. Garry Sparks of George Mason University aims at producing a first complete and critical translation of the first volume of the Theologia Indorum into English and Spanish. The translation will be primarily based on ms. 178 from the American Philosophical Society (see Fig. 1). The text will be systematically compared with the other manuscript versions. The translation of colonial K'iche' text sources is not a straightforward process, but requires the reconstruction of semantic references and contexts from colonial and modern language data. Thus, another project goal is the development of methods for decentralised collaborative translations, including the use of digital tools and infrastructures. The translation will be made available online in digital format by the Rosenzweig Center at George Mason University.






  Fig. 1: Theologia Indorum, folio 1, American Philosophical Society, ms. 178

Project Participants

  • Garry Sparks (Department of Religious Studies, George Mason University, Project Director)
  • Saqijix Candelaria Dominga López Ixcoy (Instituto de Lingüística e Interculturalidad, Universidad Rafael Landívar, Guatemala)
  • Sergio F. Romero (Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Texas at Austin)
  • Frauke Sachse (Department for the Anthropology of the Americas, University of Bonn)


  • Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University


Grant Program: Critical Translation Grant / Scholarly Editins and Translations Program, National Endowment for the Humanities

Funding period: October 2016-September 2019  

Research Team Bonn

  • Principal Investigator: jun. Prof. Dr. Frauke Sachse
  • Student Research Assistants: Paul Graf B.A., Nina Müller-Salget, Marvin Heckmann
  • Interns: Christine Busch,

  • Former Team Members: Tobias Tenhaef M.A. (Graduate Research Assistant), Elena Witte BA (Intern)